It may be the last time Adam Ashley-Cooper ever plays the Crusaders, and the departing Waratahs centre hopes Saturday’s grand final rematch will be one of their best encounters.
As the regular Super Rugby season approaches its final rounds, Ashley-Cooper is preparing to make the leap to Europe to play for French side Bordeaux-Begles following the Rugby World Cup in England.
And the 31-year-old has started nostalgically checking off the little personal milestones that come after three years with the Waratahs and a decade in the competition.
When he lines up at ANZ Stadium on the weekend, it will be the first time the NSW club meets the Crusaders since last August’s memorable title decider at the same venue.
Ashley-Cooper scored two tries in that thrilling last-gasp contest to help the Waratahs prevail 33-32 over their New Zealand-based counterparts and claim their first premiership.
The Wallabies vice-captain spoke affectionately of the respect and intensity between the two sides that seems to bring out each other’s best form.
“It’s always nice going into a match that could be your last against a certain team, and it’s one that I’ve had very good battles with over the years”, Ashley-Cooper said.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing against the Crusaders. They’re a great rugby team, they play good football.
“I’ll be going into Saturday night’s clash I guess with that little bit extra motivation knowing it would be my last against them, and how much respect I’ve got for them.”
There’s plenty at stake for the 2014 champions.
With the Brumbies idle on their bye weekend, a win would guarantee the Waratahs top spot in the Australian conference going into a tough final three rounds away to the Lions and Cheetahs and then home against the rejuvenated Reds.
Ashley-Cooper reiterated his teammates’ acknowledgements they needed to tidy up their attacking ruck detail and work on ball security given the Crusaders’ uncanny ability to capitalise on the turnover.
“They’re just a great counter-attacking team,” he said.
“They’re scoring a lot of points off turnover, and that’s a real area for us.
“We’ve been turning the football over quite a bit over the last couple of weeks so that’s something that we certainly need to address and go into the game with a real focus.”
The Crusaders are leaving their traditional end-of-season run to the finals a little later than normal, but their blistering performance against the Reds two weeks ago indicates they are still on track.
Coming off a bye week, they’ll be well rested and focused on beating the team they couldn’t quite topple last time.
“You can’t replicate a final like last year in a round game, but it’s still going to be very physical and a great contest nonetheless,” Ashley-Cooper said.
“We’re expecting a great outfit from the Crusaders. They are starting to come right at this time of the year, they always do towards the business end.
“And they’ll be out here to challenge for a really good win.”